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Improv Is No Joke

More and more Fortune 500 companies, top tier business schools, and other organizations are applying improv to the workplace. From hospitality to healthcare and from the military to manufacturing, organizations of all sizes are learning that the principles of improvisation offer lessons about being flexible, taking risks, strengthening teamwork, and bolstering creative problem-solving, which all lead to improved communication, collaboration and leadership. 


Don’t Take Our Word For It

If you’re curious about the power of improv we’ve curated a library of articles from top publications, such as ForbesInc., The AtlanticScience Magazine, and others. (Don’t want to read the whole article? We’ve provided a juicy excerpt for each so you get the gist.)

In addition to the benefits for anyone in any organization, you will find topics across several industries - business, healthcare, science, technology and the legal field.




A Novel Finding: Improv and the Great Unknown


After only twenty minutes, participants showed an increase in uncertainty tolerance. Imagine how more rigorous improv training or instruction might impact uncertainty tolerance. After twenty minutes, improv also led to increases in divergent thinking and affective wellbeing. 


Improv Boots Creativity and Psychological Well-Being


The study measured divergent thinking—the ability to form multiple, novel solutions to problems and found that improv did, in fact, help participants boost this type of creativity. The authors write, "Our findings contribute conclusive evidence that improv promotes peoples’ ability to find creative and resourceful solutions and that therefore it can help us to think in more diverse ways or even break away from ingrained patterns of behavior.”


Research suggests psychological health benefits of improvisation


The paper, “Improv promotes divergent thinking, uncertainty tolerance, and affective well-being,” found that the unpredictable, yet positive and engaging, nature of improvisational theater exercises can improve an individual’s mood, and their abilities to think creatively and to cope with the unknown.





Why Improv Training Is Great Business Training


Rebecca Waber, 30, leads a team of consultants at Innosight in Boston. She started taking improv classes for fun but immediately saw the work connection. “What you need to do in improv is listen closely to every word a scene partner is saying,” she says. “Everything’s moving so fast, you may have missed the most interesting thing. The audience may have heard it, and if you missed it you haven’t really driven the scene forward, you don’t know what to react to.” The boon comes in client meetings. “When you’re in a meeting with a client, you need to not only hear but deeply listen to everything.”


Waber also credits improv training with enhancing her presentation skills. “You need to be comfortable not only with objective facts but with emotion and expressiveness, and the emotional side of decisions and organizational dynamics is critically important to successful interactions,” she says. “It’s not necessarily easy for everyone to do both the cognitive and the emotional side, but it’s very important for a leader and consultant to have that expressive, emotional, vulnerability.”



8 Ways Improvisation Can Make You Into a Better Leader


Improv requires flexibility and agility--when something isn't working, the actors often have to change things up on the fly. In acting, you learn that change is just another part of the process of getting it right. In business, implementing even positive change can be challenging. But when leaders know how to communicate they know how to address their people in a way that empowers and includes them, bringing them along and making them feel they are part of something bigger than themselves.





What Improv Can Teach Tomorrow's Doctors


If the ultimate goal of this type of communication training is to advance patient care, early adopters of medical improv are poised to see good results. Research has shown that such training can enhance physician-patient communication, and thus improve diagnostic accuracy, patients’ adherence to treatment, and overall patient satisfaction. Furthermore, improved communication with patients can reduce physicians’ job-related stress, burnout, and litigation risk.  

Say ‘Yes, And’ to Communication


So she teaches her students to draw on improv’s “yes, and” philosophy of going along with what happens, even when it isn’t what you might have preferred. She focuses on key skills, or “muscles,” that she often sees scientists struggling with at conferences and in presentations—including reading an audience, communicating complicated ideas in an accessible way, being comfortable when things go wrong, and redirecting smoothly to get back on track.





How Improv Acting Makes Better Technologists


Myers says he uses skills from his improvisational acting classes in his work. “Improv informed my ability to lead and to work alongside my co-workers. Every day I collaborate with my team and my clients. 





Improv(ed) Legal Skills


Because improv builds on what others say and do, it also sharpens listening and collaboration skills. Payne and Miller note that the teamwork aspect helped them in Berkeley Law’s annual Bales Mock Trial Competition.


Improv for Cops


The program he developed with the N.Y.P.D., “To Protect, Serve, and Understand,” pairs seven officers and seven civilians for improvisational theatre games. The goal, he said, is to “develop empathy” between the two groups. 


“Make sure you’re really saying ‘yes’ to every offer,” Greiss reminded them, invoking the cardinal rule of improv, known as “yes, and.” “Someone calls you José, now you’re José.” He added, “… When you go for something, you’re going with your whole body, your whole mind.”

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